Chicago Convention ICAO

Manned aviation was just taking flight when States from across the world saw the importance of establishing a framework that would set the boundaries for civil international aviation regulation. So, State leaders from across the world gathered in Chicago, Illinois, for the Chicago Convention on International Aviation Law, (Chicago Convention).

The Chicago Convention establishes rules of airspace, aircraft registration, safety, security, and formalizes the principle that every State has complete and exclusive sovereignty in the airspace above its territory. It also formalized the desire to create an international civil aviation organization that could organize and support the international cooperation which the growing global air transport network would require.

The Chicago convention was held in 1944–just a few decades after the beginning of manned flight, the world was already using remotely controlled and uncontrolled (autonomous) aircraft. There was even a specific Article created to address the issue of one unmanned aircraft flying over the territory of another aircraft. Requiring aircraft flown without a pilot to receive special permission to fly over the territory of a Contracting State.

Birth of ICAO and its Mission

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) held its first official Assembly in May of 1947 and it was given responsibility for regulating the many technical aspects of commercial air transportation. With the primary goal of creating uniformity in standards and “ensuring the safety of international civil aviation worldwide”. Creating international standards respecting categories, classes or types of aircraft or classes of airmen, certificates and licenses issued or rendered valid, under national regulations, by the Contracting State in which the aircraft is registered shall be recognized by other Contracting States for the purpose of flight over their territories, including landings and takeoffs.

The ICAO required member States to create their own domestic laws and regulations to comply with the Annexes of the Chicago convention. These new domestic laws and regulations would certify aircraft, airmen, and aircraft operators as competent to carry out safe operations in international aviation.

The World Headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization- ICAO – is located in Montreal, Canada.

ICAO Standards & Unmanned Aircraft

The ICAO fulfills its mission of creating homogeneity and safety through a myriad of very tight controls. The Chicago Convention’s Annexes have increased in number and evolved to now include more than 12,000 international standards and recommended practices (SARPs), all of which have been agreed to by ICAO’s now 193 Member States.

States are obliged to recognize the validity of the certificates of airworthiness and personnel licenses issued by the State in which the aircraft is registered, so long as the standards under which such certificates or licenses were rendered is at least as stringent as those established by ICAO.

type certification

For example, member States must provide type certification of a specific aircraft design. A type certificate will list specific features like the engines, the computer software, the materials that make up the aircraft and verify that they are functional and safe. Additionally, each significant change to the aircraft requires a whole new set of tests and an amended type certificate. 

The terms of the Chicago convention related to aircraft apply equally to remotely piloted aircraft engaged in international air navigation. Thus, like any other aircraft, RPA must comply with orders to land and other instructions issued by the overflown state pursuant to Article 3; operate in accordance with rules of the are in accordance with Article 12: have access to airports on a non-discriminatory basis under Article 15: their appropriate nationality and registration marks as required by Article 20: carry required documentation as per Article 29: and have a certificate of airworthiness issued or rendered valid by the state in which it is registered in accordance with Article 31.

Once an aircraft design has obtained its mandatory type certificate, each aircraft must then obtain an “airworthiness certificate” before it can fly into the airspace of another State. Each and every aircraft engaged in international navigation shall be provided with a certificate of airworthiness issued or rendered valid by the State in which it is registered. Certificates of airworthiness are for a specific plane. The airworthiness certificate must be kept onboard the aircraft and available for inspection by another contracting State.

annex 2 – chicago convention

Annex 2 of the Chicago convention was Amended in 2012 to include a standard requiring remote Pilots to be licensed in a manner consistent with Annex 1.  Though, as noted in the RPAS Manual, these certifications and licensing standards are not yet developed or adopted! This raises the awkward question of whether Contracting States are required to recognize certificates and licenses for remote pilots issued by the state of registry, pending the coming into force of the Annex 1 standards that are currently under development. 

Consequently, the mandate for the mutual recognition of certificates and licenses among contracting States in the absence of ICAO standards likewise does not extend to certificates and licenses for “remote pilots”. Therefore, adoption of a specific standard for mutual recognition, like the ones for “air operator certificates” in Annex 6, may be desirable to require contracting States to recognize certificates and licenses for remote Pilots issued or rendered valid by other contracting States.

The best way for ICAO to introduce RPA into international air and to avoid collisions between RPAS and aircraft, an international regulatory body is needed to provide uniform standards for national certification of RPAS and introduction into international airspace. However, ICAO is best equipped to treat manned aircraft and not remotely piloted aircraft.

If you need the guidance of an aviation attorney then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 623-252-6884 or message us HERE.


ICAO is in a research and information gathering stage so they can better understand UAS, how it should be managed and ultimately integrated into international airspace. “The safe integration of UAS [RPAS] into non-segregated airspace is a long-term activity with many stakeholders adding their expertise on such diverse topics as licensing and medical qualification of remote pilots, technologies for detect and avoid systems, frequency spectrum, separation standards from other aircraft and development of a robust regulatory framework”. 

An example of ICAO’s intent to research Unmanned Aviation Systems came in 2013, during the 38th Session of the assembly, when the Republic of Korea presented working paper, which stated that there was a need for further legal research and examination of remotely piloted aircraft liability matters in light of the increasing use of UAS. Additionally, they proposed the organization of a study group similar to the Unmanned Aircraft System Study Group (UASSG), to examine and conduct legal research on liability issues related to UAS

While several delegations expressed their support for the Republic of Korea’s proposal there was one delegation who dissented, noting that A38-WP/262 did not adequately establish the need for new law relative to Unmanned Aviation Systems that two recent Conventions adopted by ICAO in 2009 already address the liability concerns raised in Republic of Korea’s paper. The concerns raised by the dissenting delegation were shared by a number of other delegations who then questions the creation of a study group as either unnecessary or premature. Another delegation then seconded this approach and decided that further preliminary research was needed to establish the need for and possible program of a prospective study group.

A brief recap of the situation with  the Republic of Korea’s working paper A38-WP/391, was they proposed the organization of a study group to conduct legal research on Unmanned Aircraft System’s liability, discussion was held regarding the proposal, various delegations expressed different levels of support, “further preliminary research was needed to establish the need for and possible program of a prospective study group”. The Commission further agreed that this topic should be added as a new item on the Work Program of the Legal Committee. In essence the “can was kicked down the road”. It was decided they need more time to decide if they should create a study group. These are the type of scenarios that will kill the international Unmanned Aviation Systems from reaching its potential.  

As noted in the recently published Manual on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (MRPAS), “remotely piloted aircraft systems are a new component of the civil aviation system… Which the International Civil Aviation Organization, States and the industry are working to understand, define and ultimately integrate.” The MRPAS also noted that, “civil aviation has, to this point, been based on the notion of a pilot operating the aircraft from within the aircraft itself and more often than not with passengers on board.” I agree with this statement 100% that the regulations put in place make sense for manned aircraft but not cutting edge technology that has never been considered before. The groundwork already provided by ICAO is a great platform for starting a new way of handling remotely piloted aircraft.

ICAO’S Mission and Unmanned Aircraft Systems–  

ICAO is aware of the coming changes to aircraft and has started preparing committees and have drafted a Manual to address the coming technology. The RPAS panel officially formalized its efforts in November 2014 and recently created a manual on remotely piloted aircraft systems but it has nevertheless struggled to keep pace with the technological advancements and demands of this extending sector of the aviation industry. The newly created manual states, “most importantly, introduction of RPAS into non-segregated airspace should in no way increase safety risks to manned aircraft.” Id.

Which leads the RPAS, reinforced this when he expressed the need for a new way of addressing development and cooperation, including the lessons learned from Civil Aviation. Mr. Creamer explained that “relatively simple standards” had taken the ICAO “25 years to develop and implement across the globe,” adding that “we don’t have that kind of time with RPAS because the technology simply has outpaced us.” In the 10-year period since the present and foreseen situations and potential were first broached and discussed at an international level, member states have continued to apply differing requirements and obligations on operators.

ICAO’s Modification to the Chicago Convention

Some of the Articles of the Chicago Convention when applied to traditional manned aircraft give us a standard of uniformity but some of those same requirements applied to RPA can lead to absurd results. For instance, Article 20 of the Chicago Convention, requires any aircraft engaged in international navigation to bear its appropriate nationality and registration marks. Acknowledging that remotely piloted aircraft sizes and designs can differ significantly from those of current manned aircraft, standards have been adopted in Annex 7 aircraft nationality and registration marks, to accommodate these differences. 

If aircraft do not possess the components mentioned in Annex 7, or the parts are not of sufficient size to accommodate the marks described in 5:1.1, 5:2.1 or 5:3.2, the state of registry shall determine the location and measurement of nationality or common marks and registration marks, taking account of the need for the aircraft to be identified readily. ICAO requires all civilian aircraft to have an identification plate near the main entrance to the fuselage. However, many remotely piloted aircraft may not have a main entrance to the fuselage. Therefore, Annex 7 mandates that the State of Registry determine the appropriate location to secure the identification plate: a) in a prominent position near the main entrance or compartment; or b) affixed conspicuously to the exterior of the aircraft if there is no main entrance or compartment.

The Dunaway Law Group, helps organizations maintain regulatory compliance with all FAA rules and regulations. We can be contacted at 623-252-6884 or message us HERE.